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Few things compare to the feeling of pride that comes from making your own creations at home. Like the artisans of old and new, starting with raw materials and creating something wonderful can be its own reward. However, getting paid for the work is an even better feeling. Before you load up the car to sell your baked goods at the fair, it is best to get familiar with the Cottage Food Laws in Washington state.
Here are a few things you should know about cottage food operations in Washington.
The first question to answer is "What is cottage food?" In general, cottage food refers to anything edible made in a home kitchen for commercial purposes. This covers a wide variety of foods, including jellies, jams, candies, and baked goods. In order to protect the safety of the community, most state, county, and local governments have food safety laws overseeing the cottage food industry.
Washington's current cottage food law took effect in 2011, with the first approved applications taking place a year later. In 2015, an amendment to the law was passed that set a $25,000 gross sales limit on individual businesses. Previously, the Department of Agriculture was allowed to set a limit using a more complicated formula including inflation. Another 2015 amendment further defined the types of products that can be sold as part of the cottage food industry. Specifically, they clarified the "potentially nonhazardous" description necessary for included items.
The year 2020 saw another pair of changes to the rules governing cottage foods. HB 2217 replaced the address requirement on labels with the permit number. In response to the pandemic, the Washington State Department of Agriculture also issued a policy statement changing enforcement practices to allow no contact interactions. Businesses can now have products delivered or mailed in accordance with food safety standards. Prior to this change, the law required face-to-face sales only.
Washington state's rules on cottage foods allow the sale of certain low-risk foods directly to consumers. Prior to the COVID-19 changes, that meant these products could be sold out of the home, by personal delivery, or in events like fairs. Washington does not allow cottage foods to be sold wholesale, such as through stores or restaurants. They can also not be sold as part of a catering business or through the mail.
While these laws are still in place, the Washington Department of Agriculture has agreed to suspend enforcement to allow cottage food businesses to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions. Products can now be no-contact delivered or mailed within the state.
As with any business, state, county, and local governments require paperwork in order to operate legally. Make sure to check with each level of government, as multiple approval types may be necessary. A Washington state business license may be required if you are doing business under another name or hiring employees. Either way, you can also expect to pay taxes and fees to the federal and state Departments of Revenue.
Washington state food service laws require anyone who works with unpackaged food, utensils, food equipment, or surfaces encountering unwrapped food to get food safety training. This entails taking a food safety course and passing an exam administered by the State of Washington. Upon passing the course, a food worker card is issued that can be used anywhere in the state. The courses are taught by local health departments and cover commercial kitchen code requirements and the basics of food safety.
Everyone producing food at home for commercial purposes must apply for a cottage food permit. A cottage food permit in Washington state includes a number of requirements and costs about $230 per application. Commercial kitchen requirements in Washington state for households with pets or children under six include submitting a plan for controlling access to the kitchen during hours of operation.
Requirements For A Cottage Food License:
Getting a permit to sell food in Washington state may sound like a cumbersome process, but it is possible. Anyone having trouble understanding how to get a commercial kitchen license may be encouraged to contact local business support groups like the Washington Small Business Development Center or the federal Small Business Administration. These organizations and others can make a cottage food business in Washington state a reality. Please note, the fine for selling food without a permit in Washington state is up to $1000 per day per offense.
Any research into "How to start a food business in Washington state," would not be complete without an examination of the local regulations. For example, acquiring a King County food permit is necessary for operating catering and home-based food businesses in that county. There is no cottage food law in Seattle, but businesses are required to file for a city business license.
While Cottage Food Operation Permits do not allow wholesale retail, there are other options. Really dedicated business owners can apply for a WSDA Food Processor License. This permit allows food products to be sold in restaurants or stores, or distributed through catering companies.
Washington leads the nation in a number of naturally grown products, including raspberries, apples, hops, grapes, pears, and sweet cherries. Vegetables like green peas, carrots, and sweet corn also grow well in the state. Accordingly, it is a popular idea to create a home-based food business in Washington state around cooking with these products. Potential new entrepreneurs should be careful to research their intended products to make sure they are legal in the state.
The full list of allowed and prohibited items can be found at the Washington Department of Agriculture website. Selling homemade food in Washington state can be a lucrative and enjoyable pastime.
Compared to other states, Washington's Cottage Food Laws can be considered strict. However, each jurisdiction in the US has its own variety of state and local regulations. It can sometimes be fascinating to compare and contrast some examples. For example, Michigan Cottage Food Law exempts the industry from the licensing and inspections required under the state's food laws. Michigan still limits revenues to $25,000 and requires certain labeling and food safety provisions.
Illinois Cottage Food Law allows the sale of homemade baked goods, dried foods, and fruit-based jams, butters, jellies, and preserves. This state limits sales locations exclusively to farmers' markets. Illinois also requires cottage food businesses to register with the local health department, which includes obtaining a food service sanitation certificate.
Compared to some other states, selling food from home in Florida is exceptionally easy. Cottage food in Florida includes mostly the same low-risk products like breads, cakes, homemade pasta, and baked or cooked fruit items. However, Florida allows foods to be sent via the mail, or delivered to private events like weddings. The southern state also does not require a food permit in order to produce and sell these items directly to consumers.
Under Florida cottage food law, hot sauce, barbeque sauce, and other liquid products are not allowed. This mirrors similar laws in Washington and other states. Wet foods are often considered high risk because of the potential for foodborne microbes. Florida also does not allow cottage foods to be sold wholesale, and tightly controls labeling processes. Any food samples used for testing must be prepackaged for safety.
Perhaps best of all, Florida allows cottage food operations to achieve revenues up to $250,000 each year. That is ten times the revenue allowed in Washington.
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